One of my favourite books this year has been Fiona Shaw's Outwalkers which was published back in February 2018. This book really resonated with me and took me back to the spirit of my childhood. Therefore, I took the opportunity to ask the author some questions about this book as well as about her writing career. If you enjoy this post then you could always check out my book review for this book. HERE
For more information on the author, you can find her on Twitter: @ or check here website HERE
Welcome, Fiona to Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books...
Outwalkers is your first book for a young adult audience, what is it about and why should we read it?
Outwalkers is a road-trip adventure story about a gang of children trying to escape from England, into Scotland. At the center of the story are Jake, and his dog Jet. It's set in a slightly (only slightly) future England in which all borders have been closed; England has left the EU, and a wall's been built between England and Scotland. I wanted to imagine a world very like the one we know now, but in which some things have hardened, or become more extreme. So there's more surveillance, education has become a tool of the government, and there is far less tolerance for those who are different.
Some of what I only imagined, when I started writing this story, has now happened!
My Outwalker gang must be resourceful and brave, and they must look out for each other before all else if they are to make their escape. The stakes get higher and higher as they travel further north, and they risk their lives and their freedom in their attempt.
Outwalkers is a story about the world we live in now, and about what it might become. But it's also a story full of hope because of the gang's refusal to accept this, and their determination to find what they need to live.
You should read it because it's a gripping adventure story, a story for our time, and a story about why the adults need the children most of all.
How do you go about writing convincing characters?
When I start writing a character, I usually know a few important things about them. But it's only in the course of writing them into the story, particularly as they have to face challenges, that I work out who they really are. And then, often, I'll go back to their earlier scenes and fill them out, once I know a bit more about them.
You are a senior lecturer in Creative Writing, what did you learn from this job that helped you to write this book?
When I started teaching at Northumbria University, one important thing I learned was that many of my students were reading, and sometimes writing, dystopic fiction: they were passionately interested in what might happen to our planet. Then I had a dream about a boy and his dog trying to escape from England, and I woke and thought: that would be a great story to write, and a story children and young adults might enjoy reading, so I'll write it for them.
The book is set in a futuristic time (which I really loved), do you think some of the ideas could possibly turn out like this in our future?
Some of the ideas are already happening: the chip under the skin that means you are always locatable - that's a real thing now. And the development of nano-technology for use in medicine has made extraordinary leaps forward - but of course anything that can be used for good also has the potential for being used to harm. Surveillance is becoming more and more extensive. The C4 programme Hunted uses this as the central premise for its volunteers trying to evade detection. And look at how much surveillance there is!
I began Outwalkers before the Scottish independence referendum, and before the Brexit referendum was even a twinkle in David Cameron's eye. England is now closing its borders, and there may yet be a Scottish vote for independence. A border between England and Scotland may still happen - though I hope there'll never be a wall again.
Did you let the story and the characters take you on a journey or did you map out the whole plot and know exactly what you wanted to write?
I knew what my characters were trying to do - reach Scotland. But how they would do that, whether they would achieve it, and what would happen to them on the way: that was a voyage of discovery for me too.
Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
Watch out for governments who say that more walls will make us all safer and happier. Don't believe them.
I have recently found out that one of your writing projects has made it to a film. If this book was made into a film who would you like to direct it and which actors would you choose to play some of the characters in the book?
I think Danny Boyle would be brilliant with it: his direction of the boys in Slumdog Millionaire is terrific; he directs action so well; and he would understand the plight that Outwalkers England was in.
Actors: An actress like Jennifer Lawrence, as I first saw her in Winter's Bone would be wonderful as Swift.
I was really moved by the child actors (Aaron Gelkoff and Teni Taiwo were two of them) in a play I saw by Tony Kushner called Caroline or Change: boys with that range of performance would be great for characters of Jake, Davie, Ollie.
They would need to love dogs of course.
Jet: I imagine Jet as a black labrador/collie cross: he would be a v important part of the story.
What did you learn from writing this book?
I learned a great deal about pace - keeping the story moving. And about the challenge of writing complex material in such a way that it works for both child and adult readers.
What are you writing next?
I have started a follow-up to Outwalkers.
How important are stories to you? What do you like to read?
Stories are incredibly important to me - they're how I understand the world – and I read all the time: fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines. I've just started reading Will Hill's After the Fire. I've just finished reading Colm Toibin's Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border (because I'm very interested in border questions, and Ireland). I've got a stack of books to start, some children's books, some adults. My niece and nephew (bookworms aged 11 and 12) are great for recommendations for children's books.
More than anything, I love getting lost in a story, true or invented. So I always make sure I have a book with me, just in case I can snatch a few minutes. It means I like coats with big pockets!